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AN ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE OF A DECOMPOSITION REACTION—AN EXPLOSION

Nitroglycerin, C3H5N3O9, is a well-known, powerful, liquid explosive. The explosion of nitroglycerin falls under the category of a decomposition reaction. Examining its products, the number of molecules, and the physical states they are in, as well as the amount of heat energy released, labeled AH, explains its tremendous destructive power. The heat energy released is also known as the enthalpy of reaction which will be discussed in more detail in Section 1.9.9. Consider the balanced reaction for this decomposition below:

Note the following three points:

  • 1. A liquid reactant changes (upon ignition or shock) into all gaseous products, requiring greater volume.
  • 2. Four moles of reactant decompose into 29 moles of products, requiring more volume.
  • 3. A tremendous amount of heat energy—5,678 kJ—is released (indicated by the negative sign of AH), heating the already gaseous products and forcing them to expand, which requires greater volume (i.e., increased temperature causes increased pressure at constant volume).

This problem underscores the importance of understanding several individual chemical principles at work simultaneously.

 
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